By Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation
“I love questions,” shares Noel Santiago, Leadership Minister for Missional Transformation. In his work accompanying pastors and church leaders, Noel seeks to ask the kind of questions that invite exploration. “This can be challenging,” he continues, “because we each have our agenda. Through questions I invite church leaders to view things from another angle, pause, and potentially take a different approach to what they are already doing.”
Noel currently works with about ten congregations as a leadership minister, and he is the staff point person for missional transformation, one of the conference’s three priorities. At the center of Noel’s work is raising questions with pastors such as: “Who is our neighbor? Who is God working with in our communities? How can we participate in that work?”
The most rewarding part of Noel’s work is “when people have some kind of encounter with God—feeling strengthened, encouraged, a sense of a load being lightened, or seeing from another perspective.” Noel also finds ordinations and installations of pastors to be very meaningful. “Holiness means to be set apart, and these are sacred moments where someone is being set apart,” he reflects.
This year, Noel has formed a missional priority team, which will be a more structured yet flexible way for church leaders to engage this conference priority. Additionally, Noel spends time teaching, preparing sermons, and preparing for events. Recently he was a part of three retreats with congregations. Praying for and with pastors, leaders, and groups is a large part of Noel’s work. “It’s not in my job description, but it’s a personal value I bring to my work,” reflects Noel. “I keep prayer front and center in all that I do.”
In 2019, Noel had a sabbatical from his conference role, and he focused on the larger framework of Jesus’ mission. “Jesus’ mission is about the world, and at its center is God’s image bearers, that is, humans,” shares Noel. “People don’t usually see themselves that way. So how do we encourage people to see themselves as in God’s image?”
Noel and his family moved to southeastern Pennsylvania from Indiana in 1996 to work for Franconia Conference. He previously served as executive minister of the conference. He has been in his current role for about six years.
Noel was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in New Holland, PA. As a child, he went back to the island frequently and grew up speaking Spanish and English. He calls himself a “Puerto Rican Dutchman” who grew up with rice and beans and shoofly pie. “It’s one big case of indigestion,” he jokes, pointing to the fact that he grew up in between two cultures, learning to navigate being formed by both of them.
“As a kid I wondered, ‘Why is my family so weird?’ but later I realized that God has been preparing me for missional, intercultural ways of being.” Growing up, his home congregation was more conservative. But on Sunday evenings his family had a more Pentecostal worship experience in Lancaster. He refers to these intersections as “Mennocostal” (Mennonite-Pentecostal) or Anamatic (Anabaptist-Charismatic) and reflects that there is an opportunity to learn from how these streams are coming together and integrating.
In his free time, being with family is Noel’s priority. He enjoys going for walks, being in the park, and having BBQs with his family. He and his wife, Juanita, have four young adult children.